Book review: Winter warmers from OUP Children’s Books

There’s a welcome ray of sunshine to brighten the dark days of winter in a selection of exciting new children’s books from Oxford University Press.

From aged two to teens, there’s a book to tickle young tastebuds, make a great escape to summer fun and transport you to an island of adventure.

Sea of Whispers by Tim Bowler

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Whilst many authors of teen novels are busy creating parallel worlds full of hi-tech gadgetry and superhumans, Tim Bowler continues to plough his prize-winning furrow through a mesmerising trail of haunting psychological thrillers.

Grounded in reality but teetering so piquantly and precariously on the borders of the paranormal, Sea of Whispers is his latest enthralling mystery – a seductive tale of loss, despair, determination, bravery and the search for identity.

Fifteen-year-old Hetty lives on Mora, a remote island where the sea is both its lifeblood and its angel of death. The 97 inhabitants find it difficult to live in harmony with the wild ocean on their doorstep, instead co-existing with it under an uneasy truce of fear and guarded respect.

Centuries-old traditions and superstitions fuel a distrust of strangers, none more so than in 100-year-old Per, the oldest man on Mora and the fountain of all folklore.

A storm at sea took the lives of Hetty’s parents when she was just a baby and she has grown up in the care of her grandmother in a tight-knit and insular community where feelings run deep and outsiders are not welcome.

Hetty is a loner, a dreamer, haunted by her loss, the mysterious visions in her polished sea glass and sea whispers which tell her that her future is set to change course.

Shortly after old Per warns that ‘there’s an evil coming to Mora... and it’s already on its way,’ a small boat crashes on the rocks.

Hetty is the first to help with the search for survivors but only one person is washed up on the shore, a frail, strange old woman who is barely alive and whose face has been darkening Hetty’s sea glass.

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But death and disaster come with her and it is clear to many that the old woman is a bad omen and the bringer of evil prophesied by old Per.

As the islanders grow hostile, Hetty knows that she must take matters into her own hands. The solution is wild, dangerous and frightening and as she heads out to sea, a storm is breaking and the whispers that she’s heard before are louder than ever.

Can she save the old woman and will she ever be able to silence the voices?

Sea of Whispers is a slow-burning, atmospheric story from the winner of the Carnegie Medal. Bowler handles grown-up themes with insight and sensitivity whilst delivering an intriguing, wildly romantic and compelling mystery.

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Top-class reading for youngsters aged 11 and over.

(OUP, hardback, £12.99)

The Flip-Flop Club: Midnight Messages by Ellen Richardson

Friendships are the ties that bind youngsters together and the relationship between three young girls is at the warm heart of Ellen Richardson’s fun and funny adventure series.

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The captivating Flip-Flop Club books combine mystery, comedy, friendship and lashings of summer sunshine in lively stories that are ideal for girls aged nine and over.

Elly, Tash, and Sierra are the best friends... ever. At a sleepover in Tash’s tree house, the girls are going through all the inventions of Tash’s granddad (who was better known as Old Man Blake), trying to figure out what they are and what they are meant to do.

When Tash pulls out a ghost detector, the three of them can’t resist trying it out. At first, nothing happens but then it starts bleeping madly, and when Elly looks out of the window and sees lights coming from the graveyard, the girls know something’s up.

There are rumours that nearby Sunday Island is haunted by the ghost of Old Man Blake, so perhaps he’s trying to tell them something about his inventions.

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Sierra is convinced that ghosts don’t exist, so why is she scared of them? And if ghosts don’t exist, then who was it in the graveyard? Can the girls face their fears and solve the mystery?

Richardson’s imaginative stories positively buzz with action, dialogue, mystery and adventure... who could ask for anything more?

(OUP, paperback, £5.99)

Chickens Can’t See in the Dark by Kristyna Litten

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If your pre-schoolers can’t see the point of carrots, then maybe you should introduce them to Little Pippa. She’s a chicken, but no ordinary chicken. And she’s on quest... to find out why chickens can’t see in the dark.

Kristyna Litten’s charming and colourful picture book, with its adorable illustrations and quirky story, is guaranteed to get feathers flying in the nursery.

The fun starts when Mr Benedict tells his class on Sunnyside Farm that chickens can’t see in the dark. Stubborn Pippa sets out to discover the secrets of night vision and after a fact-finding mission to the library and the farm shop, she takes a wheelbarrow of carrots to Mother Hen’s Pantry where she cooks up the most delicious carroty banquet ever seen.

She invites her feathered friends to share the feast and despite being sceptical about what difference eating so many carrots will make, everything is so tasty that they soon eat every last mouthful.

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And on that starry, moonlit evening, Pippa has the last laugh when the chickens discover the delights of seeing in the dark!

Litten’s quirky tale about a feisty, free-ranging chicken will make your toddlers giggle as well as encouraging them to think for themselves, follow their dreams and perhaps even learn to love carrots just a little!

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)